South Africa

THE DARK SIDE OF FLOOD RELIEF

How eThekwini staffers tried to hijack food meant for rescuers of the dead and displaced

Screenshots from a video that went viral of vehicles with eThekwini council markings, driven by three officials, and a police vehicle that allegedly started loading care packs into the cars. (Screenshots: Twitter)

As Durban municipality tries to cover up the attempted patronage spree, a DA councillor says City bosses can’t sweep this under the carpet.

Three eThekwini council staff members arrived in two cars at the Virginia Airport in Durban North on Monday. They tried to hijack food meant for the rescue teams arriving from around the country to search for those missing in the wake of the deadly floods which had claimed 443 lives by Monday. 

The three eThekwini officials who arrived to pack up donations meant for rescuers. They also opened and started eating from rescuer care packs. (Photo: Supplied)

The rescuers are deployed from the suburban airport to look for missing people and assist those who are displaced or marooned. They retrieve dead bodies and bring them back to the airport, where they are loaded into mortuary vans.  

Volunteers have rallied to arrange care packs for the rescuers and for flood victims who are often cold and hungry, DA councillor Shontel de Boer told Daily Maverick. De Boer said that she and other women from the area decided to assist the rescue teams after hearing they would be based at Virginia Airport.

Read in Daily Maverick: Government will cooperate on relief efforts to flood-hit provinces – Dlamini Zuma

The care packs include energy boosters and bars, socks, clothing for the people being rescued and gloves for the rescuers. 

On Monday, volunteers were surprised when vehicles with eThekwini council markings, driven by three officials, arrived and started loading care packs into the cars. 

“At one stage during the day, one or more council staff were seen opening and eating from the prepared bags. The volunteers queried this conduct and expressed their concern,” says De Boer.  

When a council truck arrived and began loading up the care packs, the volunteers called Vanessa Knight who, together with De Boer, had organised the aid effort. Knight arrived and blocked the path of the council officials. A video of this confrontation went viral on social media and sparked outrage in Durban and across the country.

The video of the confrontation that went viral on social media.

Video of a pre-deployment drill by rescuers at Virginia Airport.

Knight kicked up a rumpus and called the cops and everyone else she knew.  The trucks were subsequently forced to turn around and return the goods they had attempted to remove.

“The driver was not stealing,” protested the eThekwini council in a statement. 

“She is one of our employees in the Community Participation Unit and is assigned to deliver donations to one of the townships … We can also confirm reports that some residents are insisting that their donated goods be delivered to areas of their choice.” 

“It’s lies,” says De Boer, who said that Virginia Airport, along with the volunteers she is working with, is supporting the rescuers. “They are busy all the time. You can see how exhausted they are when they return.” 

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She describes heartbreaking scenes as bodies are offloaded from helicopters. At the weekend, a woman with a baby strapped to her back was among the dead – both lost to the raging torrents.

The volunteers at the airport also provide hot drinks and care packs for the rescue teams. Tea. Coffee. Hot chocolate. The women are on the phones working their contacts at local retailers, who have responded generously, says De Boer.

The local Spar, Checkers and Hyper pack the care packs. Restaurants send food. The group has received a consignment of gloves. And restaurants in Durban North and Umhlanga provide breakfast, lunch and supper vouchers for the rescuers.

People and businesses have donated everything from water to pizzas and gloves. (Photo: Supplied)
Local restaurants have provided breakfast, lunch and supper vouchers. (Photo: Supplied)
Volunteers distribute food to rescue workers in eThekwini after the floods
Women from the community run hot drink and food stops for returning rescuers. (Photo: Supplied)

Volunteers go to the airport on a roster basis and set up the refreshment station or pack goods that go out with the rescuers. They say they did not recognise the City officials who arrived on Monday, and when they asked what they were doing there, the staff did not answer. 

When the volunteers objected to the goods being packed into council vehicles, the City officials called the police – who then helped them remove the packages. 

The City says the officials are from the eThekwini Community Participation Unit, but De Boer, a DA councillor in the area, says she does not recognise them.

“The unit organises ward by ward, and local councillors know the staff. If they were in my ward, I would know them.” 

The City is trying to shut down the incident as “fake news”.

“There are still many questions and answers that need to be ventilated in this matter. It won’t be left to go away. Treating peoples’ donations with respect is a priority. Supporting those who brave death daily is a priority,” said De Boer in a Facebook post that went viral on Tuesday.

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City Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda governs with a coalition after ANC support in Durban dropped to 42% in the November 2021 election. Analysts regard the Community Participation Unit as a cadre unit of the ANC, which often uses its heft to distribute patronage for the party.  

Sources told Daily Maverick they believed the goods were destined for ANC councillors to distribute in distressed communities. This region of the governing party is the stronghold of the party’s RET faction.

“We stand by our statement,” said council spokesperson Mluleki Mntungwa. 

Virginia Airport is not a depot for all donations, as the City first claimed.

Mntungwa could not name the three officials or say who sent them to take the care packages from the airport.  

“We have over 20,000 staff members so I wouldn’t be able to identify these ones.” DM

 

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All Comments 32

  • One thing the President should have announced when declaring the recent national disaster, a special court that immediately processes any corruption or theft attempt related to it. Also, when caught, people should be arrested and options of bail should be waved.

  • Thanks for exposing this DM. Come on Thekwini Metro, we are waiting for your proper action on this, they were caught red handed and we’d like to know who ordered them to go there. Your claim that this was a misunderstanding won’t fly. Either you take action or you admit complicity at the highest level.

  • Is it any wonder that there is no trust in Ramaphosa, his government and the thieving ANC cadres. They all see this as yet another opportunity to loot and steal – no matter how desperate and needy the intended recipients are.

  • Within 5 seconds these appalling, thieving ANC cadres pile into the trough. What kind of human being is capable of this level of depravity?

  • The council now has pics of the culprits and they were using council cars, with this video how much more evidence does the council spokesperson need? It beggars belief what goes down and unpunished amongst the political elite. Good job, DM, done and dusted again. Meanwhile, da prez says zero tolerance, is he even on our planet anymore?

  • Anybody giving money to any government institution for any so-called relief aid must be really stupid. You might as well flush it down the loo.
    What does not get stolen will be ill spent and wasted by the stupid bunch of professional thugs and thieves that get a salary to do nothing and are protected from being brought to justice by their buddies in the government. Filth!

    Gift of the givers is the place to go – honest, competent, dedicated and hard working.

  • So sad and have we not learnt that one never gives anything intended for others to political parties particularly the ANC. Well done to all the volunteers for their unselfish work – the country thanks you.

    • Shontel de Boer and Vanessa Knight need to be congratulated for standing their ground against these thieves. They are obviously part of an organised criminal gang

  • The saying:

    You can lock up a thief, but you can do nothing with a liar.

    doesn’t hold true in South Africa.

    …here you can do nothing with either.

  • And so it begins…. ANC caught out again, despite Cyril’s national assurances that there will be zero tolerance for theft and corruption. He should hang his head in shame. I would be very surprised if this matter even makes it past council level. In my opinion Cyril’s office should be following this up and demanding the full story and, if any councillors or police officials are found wanting, they should enforce accountability and appropriate sanction. But then we are dealing with the ANC and this is South Africa, so I’m not holding my breath. I can only imaging the level of theft, looting and handing out patronage when the R1 bn relief fund kicks in. Sorry Cyril, but you fail miserably and your organisation does as it pleases. What a disgrace. Well done to DM for picking this up. It would be a sweet victory if their efforts to uncover this story results in some type of sanction, so keep digging.

  • KZN is a hornet’s nest of corruption, theft and murder. For any hope of assistance reaching anyone, Province needs to step out of the way. At the best of times, they do enough damage by just being paid and doing nothing for it.

  • When identified, maybe their properties should be searched for other stolen loot. Their cheek indicates never been challenged before.

  • And why am I not surprised that Durban officials are stealing from the rescue effort? In fact, I think I am going to die of not-surprised.

  • A FB posting worth repeating: “What an indictment of the paucity of integrity that has come to be associated with the voracious desire to capture anything of value that can be converted into patronage needed to sustain the ruling elite. We constantly plumb new lows in our state of Anomie. I use the word Anomie deliberately, for it is a precise description of the normless society we have degenerated into. Anomie was first described by Durkheim in his 1887 work on mass suicide. It refers to the hopelessness that arises when the norms and core values of society degenerate. The logical outcome over time is a growing sense of hopelessness that ultimately causes social structure to break down into pre-mediaeval systems where life was famously described by Thomas Hobbes as being harsh, brutish and short. We are witnessing the return of such normless conditions.”

  • There is a clear picture of one of the municipal employees trying to collect the donations, she must have signed out the municipal vehicle she was driving, so there must be a record to refer to in the system,and the spokesman for the municipality confirms ” She is one of our employees ……” in his response but they, the municipality cannot identify who she is and provide her name. Either they are complicit in this attempted hijack operation or they take the community they are supposed to serve as complete idiots. Name and shame these people because as long as there are no serious consequences The ANC will continue with their corrupt behaviour. I have no doubt ANC councillors would have utilised the relief parcels to promote their own status within the community to the detriment of the many poor people suffering from these devastating floods. They have no conscience and neither do they care. Always self first with these people. Name and shame!!!

  • The shrieking of Vanessa Knight continues to ring in my ears hours after watching this video; a profoundly depressing document of contemporary South Africa, reflecting poorly on all participants, both the director and the cast.

  • Beyond sick. These people have no pride, no morals. They are an absolute disgrace. What fascinates me is how many people still support the ANC despite the avalanche of evidence confirming beyond doubt, their widespread misdemeanors. One of South Africa’s truly great mysteries.

  • Back in the day, when a municipal vehicle is used they had to be signed off in a log book, these days perhaps an app when it leaves the yard. Easy to track.
    But maybe Ethekwini doesn’t do this anymore.

  • The sheer disgusting arrogance on the face of that woman staring at the camera…She should be told that this is why the country is in a mess. But maybe she wouldn’t understand the logic…That’s the caliber of those in the decision making cabal…

  • I was truly a fan of the President Ramaphosa but his glaring incompetence and his persistent unwillingness to tackle the horrible abuses of the most poor and vulnerable members of the society truly make me sick to my stomach. How on earth those people can live with themselves, how on earth can they sleep at night? And those who are charged with righting wrongs do nothing?
    Then humanity is truly doomed.

  • “All that needs to happen for evil to prevail is for good people to stand by and do nothing”. Thank you to the brave lady who stood up to the rot that is creeping into the province. I would like to see our Premier keep to his word now, and root out the abuse. I would like to see the President keep to his word on no corruption. The people of eThekwini are fed up. There is a total loss of faith.

  • It is in fact a serious crime. Not just theft, but robbery once the City Police became involved and the staffers effectively used the threat of force to remove the food parcels.
    If I had arrived to help myself to goods that are clearly not mine, I would have been arrested and would be facing the prospect of a conviction for robbery and imprisonment without the option of a fine.
    The changing and implausible excuses offered simply serve to confirm that whoever gave the order to take the food parcels must have known that it was theft and should face criminal charges.

    Why are the Municipal officials immune to consequences? Lay charges.

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